30 July 2019


I’ve only twice seen live bands actually playing in bandstands but both times have been memorable experiences and I find the structures themselves quite fascinating.

Whole books have been written about the history of bandstands (and you can read a brief extract from one of those on the author’s website here) so I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice to say that the first British bandstands were constructed in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in London’s South Kensington in 1861. In the essay 'Garden of the Royal Horticultural Society', in Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, (ed. F H W Sheppard, London, 1975, which can be accessed at British History Online), the author reports that

[engineer and architect Francis] Fowke also designed the two 'band houses' of iron and zinc-covered wood which The Builder thought 'light and tasteful' ... The ironwork was by J. Potter and Company. One bandstand survives on Clapham Common where it was re-erected in 1890.

However, it seems that last statement about the bandstand having been moved to Clapham Common is incorrect, as Hazel Conway has since discovered that the two original bandstands went to other locations (and have since been demolished) and the Clapham Common bandstand is, in fact, an 1890 replica. 

As urban living conditions deteriorated during the industrial revolution and the music of brass bands became more popular, town councils began building bandstands, and other leisure facilities, in the public parks that were then being developed, so that over-worked, stressed factory workers had somewhere to escape their grim, over-crowded living conditions and enjoy a little rest and relaxation while listening to sometimes soothing, occasionally stirring brass band music.

I don’t have any photos of the earlier bandstands but this one in Victoria Park, Widnes, though actually a modern replica of the original, is typical of many that were constructed in the late Victorian era. It was one of the park’s major features when it opened in 1900, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Bandstands were also popular in New Zealand, my home country, though for some unknown reason we call them band rotundas. According to the Digital NZ website, ‘popular enthusiasm for brass band music led to over 100 rotundas being built from the 1890s to the 1930s’, and the website has wonderful old photos of some of them.

One that’s featured is the band rotunda in The Domain, a huge park in central Auckland. It was built in 1912 and still hosts occasional concerts during the summer months. (My photos were taken in September and December 2013, when I had returned to live in Auckland for a time.)

Even the humble little town of Ngaruawahia, my home town in New Zealand, has a band rotunda. It sits in a dramatic position, at the confluence of the Waipa and Waikato Rivers, in a park which, in my childhood, was used for fairs and circuses and an annual gathering we called ‘The Regatta’, when the green was filled with carnival attractions, there were Maori canoe races on the adjacent river, and brass bands played stirring tunes from the rotunda (though I don’t remember the bands as much as the sideshows and merry-go-rounds!).

Getting back to what I wrote at the beginning of this post about my memorable experiences of hearing live bandstand performances, the first was on a visit to Chester in July 2014. My friend Sarah and I had tickets to see a performance of Macbeth at the open-air circular theatre in Grosvenor Park (it was fantastic!) so we were spending the day in Chester, walking the Roman walls, exploring the historic city. As the time for the play approached, we decided to walk to the venue along the riverside paths and almost immediately heard the music. Luckily, we had time to grab an icecream from a nearby vendor and sit and enjoy the music, before going on to see the play.

That bandstand was first built, in its lovely riverside setting, in 1913, it’s now a Grade II-listed structure, and it underwent a full restoration in early 2018. It is used extensively throughout the summer months for free concerts by brass and jazz bands, as well as performers of other musical genres.

My second memorable bandstand experience was in the seaside town of Eastbourne, on England’s south coast, while visiting my friend Jill in August 2014. Eastbourne Bandstand, which bills itself as ‘The Busiest Bandstand on Planet Earth (unless you know better)’, is a unique structure and very different to the other bandstands described here. Built in 1935, its three levels can seat up to 1400 people, and it hosts a huge number and range of musical performances which, like the one we attended, often end literally with a bang – we went to one of their ‘1812 Fireworks and Proms’ concerts, which concluded with an orchestral performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a spectacular fireworks display. It was truly a night to remember! 

Here in Wales, there are a number of bandstands in the towns and cities near where I live, so I’ll be featuring those in some of my future blogs.

27 July 2019

Penarth : Church of the Holy Nativity

Another day, another anniversary, this time of the laying of the foundation stone for one of the local places of Christian worship, the Church of the Holy Nativity. It sounds like the event was quite a do – the local Lord and Lady did the honours, there was a procession, complete with brass band, and in the evening a social gathering was held. Here’s part of the report, and some sketches, from the Barry Dock News, 4 August 1893:

The little township of Cogan, near Penarth, was considerably enlivened on Thursday afternoon, the 27th instant, with bunting and other decorations in honour of the visit of Lord and Lady Windsor to lay the memorial stone of the new Church of Holy Nativity, which is in course of erection (on a suitable site between Cogan and Penarth) to meet the spiritual requirements of the churchpeople of the parishes of Llandough, Leckwith, and Cogan. The weather being favourable, there was a large gathering of the public, amongst those in attendance during the proceedings being the Right Hon. Lord Windsor (the lord lieutenant) and Lady Windsor, the Lord Bishop of Llandaff, Rev Canon Edwards. M. A. (St. Andrew's Rectory, who acted as the Bishop's chaplain) and Miss Edwards, Rev Canon Allen, M.A., rector of Barry ...

The new building has been attractively designed in what is known as the perpendicular style of architecture. It will accommodate over 300 worshipers, and the structure will consist of nave, transepts, chancel, south porch, heating chamber, vestries, and organ chamber. The material used is local limestone, lined with Cattybrook brick in bands. At the west-end there will be a bell-cote to hold two bells of pretty design, carried on an arch spring off buttresses. The total cost of the church will be about £2,500, including the boundary walls. Lord Windsor, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, has generously given the site, and his Lordship, together with Lady Windsor, graciously consented to perform the ceremony of laying the memorial stone. The silver trowel and mallet, with which this interesting work was performed, were of a handsome description, designed by Mr Fowler and supplied by Mr Tainsh, of High-street, Cardiff. The trowel bore the following inscription:--
“Cogan Mission Church of the Holy Nativity. The memorial stone was set by the Right Hon. Lord Windsor, 27th July, 1893."

The church sits in a prominent position on the approach road to Penarth and, although the article refers to the church being in Cogan, the boundaries between Penarth and Cogan have almost disappeared over the years and the church is now officially part of the parish of Penarth and Llandough.

The parish website reports that the church’s nave was ‘burnt out by incendiary bombs on 4 March 1941. The Chancel arch was filled in with bricks and the congregation worshipped in the Chancel until the restoration. The building was re-consecrated on 25 February 1952.’

Like many churches these days, this one is locked much of the time so I haven't seen the interior. I also couldn't locate the foundation stone so I presume it is inside the church.

Above, one of the side windows and the entrance porch. Below, the bell tower.

21 July 2019

The Tragedy of Mademoiselle Albertina

One hundred and twenty three years ago today, on 21 July 1896, a brave young woman lost in her life in an aerial stunt that should never have been allowed to happen.

I first became aware of the story of Louisa Maud Evans – her nom de theatre was Mademoiselle Albertina – when I lived in Cardiff and was a frequent visitor to nearby Cathays Cemetery. The inscription on her headstone intrigued me:

In memory of Louisa Maud Evans, aged 14 ½ years.
Who met with her death on July 21st 1896.
On that day she ascended in a balloon
from Cardiff, and descended by parachute
into the Bristol Channel. Her body was
found washed ashore near Nash (Mon) on
the 24th of July and was buried
here on the 29th.
To commemorate the sad ending of
a brave young life.
This memorial was erected by public subscription.
“Requiescat in Pace”   [presumably rest in peace]
‘Brave woman, yet in years a child
Dark death closed here they heavenward flight
God grant thee, pure and undefiled
To reach at last the light of light.’

I read an account of her death in the booklet Cathays Cemetery Cardiff on its 150th Anniversary, produced by the Friends of Cathays Cemetery in 2009, but it wasn’t until I read the contemporary newspaper reports that the real horror of Louie’s death was brought home to me.

Sketch of Louie Evans (left), South Wales Echo, 27 July 1896, and sketch of Louie with her foster parents (right),
Cardiff Times, 1 August 1896

This was a very public spectacle, an ascent by balloon followed by a descent by parachute, one of the many entertainments that accompanied the six-month run of the 1896 Cardiff Industrial and Maritime Exhibition. Long story short, Louisa (Louie) Maud Evans had been engaged by her foster parents the Crinks to work as a domestic servant for the manager of a circus and, perhaps craving a taste of the excitement she saw in that environment, became involved with Auguste Gaudron, a Frenchman who entertained the crowds with balloon stunts, often performed by young women.

Evening Express, 24 July 1896 and 22 July 1896

On 21 July, despite never having performed this stunt previously, Louie was dressed in a sailor suit, with a cork life vest for safety, and hoisted several thousand feet into the air, while hanging by ropes from a smoke-filled balloon. At a pre-arranged place, she was meant to detach herself from the balloon, parachute safely to earth, be collected by a horse and carriage, and driven back to much applause from the huge crowd at the exhibition. But it all went horribly wrong.

South Wales Echo, 22 July 1896
This ‘graphic interview with a boat-man’ was reported the next day in the Evening Express:

James Ware, boatman at the Pier-head, states: A little after eight o'clock on Monday I was standing on the East Moors, just above the signal box. I followed the course of the parachutist right from above the Exhibition to the moment she entered the water. I had with me an excellent pair of marine glasses and was able to distinctly follow every movement of the parachutist. A little while after it struck the water, the parachute remained extended above, and appeared to be keeping the young aeronaut up, but after two or at the most three minutes, it slowly toppled over in a northerly direction, and disappeared altogether. I saw no vessel near enough to pick her up, and I am sorry to have to say that in my opinion no boat did rescue the unfortunate lady ...

Gaudron denied that such an accident was possible: ‘it is an emphatical impossibility for the parachute to topple sideways’ and ‘it is utterly and completely impossible for anyone to sink when equipped with a lifebelt such as Mdlle. Albertina wore’. When asked how he had become acquainted with Louie, he replied: “I advertised for a young lady for balloon work, and she applied. I think she had been doing some public performances before somewhere. She first went up in a captive balloon with me at Dublin, and eventually started parachuting in Cornwall, at Redruth. Last night's ascent made the sixth. She has never fallen in the sea before, but was a good swimmer.” Sadly, none of Gaudron’s statements was true.

For several days, men in boats searched the waters off Cardiff for any sign of the poor young woman, and the newspapers were full of stories about the accident, Louie’s disappearance, and speculation as to whether or not she would be found alive. Sadly, she was not. On 25 July, the Evening Express was one of the first newspapers to report that Louie’s body had been found.

South Wales Echo, 27 July 1896
The body of Mdlle. Albertina was recovered about twelve o'clock last night at Nash, near Newport. It had been reported at an earlier hour at Goldcliffe that the body had been seen on the seashore at Nash, and a number of men set off with a view to the recovery of it ... They found that the body was that of the lost parachutist by her dress. The police were afterwards communicated with, and in the early hours of this (Saturday) morning the body was removed to the belfry of Nash Church. It bore no marks of violence, and there were no traces of the lost parachute to be seen, but the hooks for attaching the parachutist to the parachute were still fastened to the dress at the shoulders.

There was also a rather gruesome description of the body, which a reporter had travelled to Nash Church to view, and of the ‘excitement’ the news had caused in Cardiff. The inquest, held two days later, returned the following verdict (Evening Express, 27 July 1896):

The jury consulted in private, and returned the following verdict: "That deceased was accidentally drowned in the Bristol Channel on Tuesday last, whilst descending from a balloon," and the foreman, addressing the coroner, stated that the jury were unanimously of opinion that M. Gaudron displayed great carelessness and want of judgment in allowing so young and inexperienced a person to make a descent during such weather as prevailed on Tuesday last, and that they wished to censure him and caution him against allowing such a thing to occur again.

Evening Express, 25 July 1896

The newspaper also reported about Louie’s funeral:

Strong feeling has been manifested that the body of the unfortunate parachutist should be buried at Cardiff, and many offers of subscriptions towards the funeral expenses have been forthcoming. We understand, however, that Mr. Webster, on behalf of the Concessions Company, Cardiff Exhibition, by whom M Gaudron was employed, has undertaken to defray the expenses of the burial of the unfortunate girl. This clears the way for the devotion of the money subscribed by the public to the erection of a memorial tablet over the grave on which shall be inscribed an account of the poor girl's tragic death.

And so it was that on 3 December 1896 the South Wales Daily News reported:

During the six months run of the Cardiff exhibition of 1896 there was one untoward incident which marred an otherwise clean sheet. This was the lamentable occurrence by which the so-called Mdlle. Albertina met an awful death in making a parachute descent. The fact that this was her first attempt—although quite unknown at the time to the organisers of the affair—taken in conjunction with her tender age—she was but 14—served to excite an intensity of public interest in Cardiff and the neighbourhood that has rarely, If ever, been paralleled. Nor was the excitement confined to this neighbourhood. The circumstances attracted the attention of Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who, wrote a long letter to the Times condemning such performances. The non recovery of the body of the poor girl for two or three days also contributed to the anxious excitement of the many thousands who had witnessed the aerial descent and of others and it was only after the corpse bad been washed up by the tide on the Nash side of the Usk mouth and the Coroner's 'quest had been duly held that public excitement became in some degree allayed. The peculiarly distressing circumstances, however, of the death of Louisa Maud Evans, whose nom de theatre, Mdlle. Albertina, was assumed by her once and once only, had stirred the warm sympathies of not a few Cardiff people, who determined that the girl's final resting-place in their midst should be marked with some suitable memorial. Thus, then, it happens that a handsome stone has been recently set up at the Cardiff Cemetery which shall serve to recall, for generations to come it may be, one of the most heartrending occurrences associated with the town of Cardiff. The preparation of the headstone was entrusted to Mr Button, sculptor, Neville-street, and his work has been excellently done.

16 July 2019

Rogiet windmill

What a delight it was to discover this new windmill earlier this week. That’s new, as in the first time I’d seen it or even knew of its presence, not new as in newly constructed, as you can tell immediately from its appearance. I was walking from Severn Tunnel Junction train station in Rogiet, in the nearby county of Gwent, to Slade Wood for a day’s butterflying with my friend Sharon when this structure appeared on the hillside in front of me.

Unfortunately, I’ve found very little information about the former windmill – what I list here has come almost entirely from the British Listed Buildings (BLB) website. This now ruined structure was once a tower-type windmill, most probably used for grinding corn into flour. The BLB lists a reference to the mill having been found in a lease document dating from 1526, so the mill is assumed to have been built around 1500. The lease or deed, between the parties Gamage (the lord of the manor), Lovelye and Mylward, relating to a ‘windmill and appurtenances’, is held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, so I haven’t been able to examine its content.

The tower is shown as a round building on a survey document dated 1746, is labelled ‘old mill’ on an Ordnance Survey map of 1830, and is shown as a dot on ‘Windmill tump’ on the 1881-82 Monmouthshire county OS map. The BLB website describes the structure as follows:

Of small scale rubble. Walls c 1m thick taper slightly and are offset below present wall head. Three original openings, possibly 4.
Former narrow stairs to upper floor S.
Doorway SW with rubble jambs, possibly a window above it.
Opposite is a second opening probably a window with doorway above; heads of both broken.
Intact slit window upper floor S.

3 tiers of beam slots. Slots also indicate stairs from ground to first floor and plaster line indicates former continuation to top floor.
Diameter suggests one pair of millstones.

Next time I visit this area, I’ll try to get better photos of the ruin and will update this post with them, and any additional information I manage to find.


22 July, and a return visit to Rogiet. You can get quite close to the windmill by walking up the lane adjacent to its field, so here are a few more photos. The structure is in a sorry state of repair unfortunately.

15 July 2019

Penarth : Fake news!

It seems the concept of fake news is not a new one. One hundred and twenty years ago today this newspaper report related the ‘startling news’ of a meteorite falling in Penarth ... but did it?

Evening Express, 15 July 1899:
Startling news fills up the gap in the weather conversation this morning. A meteorite is stated to have fallen near the esplanade at Penarth ...

Seventy-nine people telephoned and telegraphed and called on us this morning to tell us of a meteor which fell at Penarth this morning. The office scientist wrote an account from hearsay, proving it to be the comet of 1817, just a bit used up, but active. Members of Cardiff scientific societies were of [the] opinion that it was a spoonful of meteoric matter out of the milky way. Then our matter-of-fact man took a bus there, and came back and said the strange thing was a mammoth rocket. The scientific people waiting here to hear about it proved immediately that the phenomenon was a successful endeavour of the men in Mars to signal us. Great excitement prevailed, until the news came that the rocket was a stray one from the life-saving station. Then the scientists invited us out to take to drink, and say nothing about it.

10 July 2019

Penarth : a royal assortment of post boxes

If you’re looking to post a letter in the lovely Glamorgan town of Penarth, you can choose from a wide variety of post boxes in which to place that letter for collection. There are pillar and wall boxes of various shapes and sizes, all bearing some version of the royal cypher of the king or queen who reigned at the time they were installed. The cypher usually consists of the monarch’s initials and a number in Roman numerals to indicate which monarch they are to have used that name, sometimes but not always surmounted by a crown.

The oldest post boxes date from the Victorian era (pillar boxes have been in use in Britain since 1852), when Penarth was an extremely popular seaside resort. There are at least three VR (Victoria Regina) pillar boxes, two tall and one slightly shorter and fatter (these would all have particular design names but I’m not so fascinated by post boxes as to have researched them). Penarth also has at least one wall box – there may be more lurking in the older streets that I haven’t yet walked along. Interestingly, this doesn’t show the official royal cipher in cursive script; instead, it simply has the letters VR, with a crown between, along the top of the box.

The next British monarch to reign after Victoria’s death in 1901 was her oldest son Albert who became Edward VII. 

So far I’ve located one post box from his nine-year reign, the pillar box shown at left. 

Edward VII certainly wins the prize for most elegant cypher, I think.

Next up was George V. Interestingly, his cypher does not include the Roman numeral V – it is simply GR. 

I have not discovered why this was. (The royal cyphers are apparently designed by the College of Arms and subsequently approved by the monarch.) Penarth has at least one pillar box and one wall box from this 25-year reign (1910 – 1936).

George V’s replacement was, of course, Edward VIII, the king who famously abdicated, after just 326 days on the throne, to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. 

Although post boxes were issued with his cypher, they are few and far between, and Penarth does not have one. (There is an Edward VIII pillar box in Cardiff though – see here.)

Replacing his brother, George VI became king on 11 December 1936 and served as monarch for the following fifteen years, until his death on 6 February 1952. Penarth has at least one pillar box and one wall post box from this period.

Last and longest of the British monarchs to be represented on the local post boxes is, of course, the current queen, Elizabeth II. Perhaps because of the length of her reign, Penarth boosts several different post boxes showing her royal cypher. I suspect, both from its design and its condition, that the pillar box on the right is the oldest of these. The box on the left was a ‘modern’ design that dates from 1980, but that type was replaced in 2000 by the pillar box shown in the centre, which has the words ‘Royal Mail’ emblazoned below the cypher instead of the more traditional ‘Post Office’. And that’s it until Britain gets its next monarch.